Monday Mornings with Madison

When Small and Midsized Businesses Update Websites in 2020 – Part 3

Word Count: 1ת493
Estimated Read Time: 6 min.

Part 3:   Understanding the Process

The custom design and development of a website is a challenging and complex process.  For those tackling that undertaking, it helps to understand some of the basics of the process.

Step 1 – Define the Team – Choose the Stakeholders.

Two of the biggest challenges in creating a company website is deciding:

1) what are the goals for the website (what would the ‘perfect website’ look like, sound like and allow users to do?), and

2) who will determine whether the website’s messaging, style, user experience and functionality are meeting those goals?

To do 1, it is imperative to do 2 first.   The Stakeholders for the project must be identified.  Who is going to run point to ensure that the project is being done, done correctly, on time and on budget?  Who will be involved in reviewing and approving content, designs, and functionality and defining the user experience?

The Stakeholders may include one or several people in leadership, marketing, IT, sales, customer service, and operations.  It might also include someone in accounting, if the business is an eCommerce company, and there may need to be someone from Legal involved if the business is in an industry that is highly regulated such as finance, securities, insurance, pharmaceuticals, legal, etc.

Step 2 – Outline the Vision – What is the bulls-eye?

The stakeholders should try to at least briefly define the vision for the website.  What would the ‘perfect website’ look like?  What does it sound like? What will users be able to do on the website?  What should the user experience be like?  What can the site offer to entice people to come back again and again?  The vision should be written in a brief statement.  This will help the technical team creating the website to understand the purpose and complexity of the company’s website when providing a quote.

Step 3 – Identify the Digital Agency or Team who will Create the Website.

If the company has the staff to handle some or most of the project in-house, that helps.  If not, then someone must do the research to identify a digital agency that has the skills and talent to create a website as loosely identified.  Research firms that have the ability to do the level of website complexity that the company needs.  Look for recommendations, ask for referrals and read reviews.  Narrow down the list to 3-4 companies that have the sophistication to handle the various types of programming required by the website.  It will vary from business to business.

Step 4 – Do Deep Discovery– Set Goals and Define Design and Functionality.

The project’s stakeholders and the digital agency hired to create the website will need to spend time together defining the project in detail, using the vision statement as the guide.  First and foremost, why is the site needed?  Who is it for?  Who will visit the site?  What should they be able to do on the site? How is “success” defined for the project?  What aesthetic (look and feel) preferences does the leadership have?  What design elements are available for use with the site, such as photographs, video, brand elements, etc?

Think about content.  What information should the site include?  What is the company’s sales process and how does it connect to the website?  Will the site handle sales?  Customer service requests?  How do/will prospective customers find the company?  What messages / key points should the site communicate? 

Step 5 – Confirm the Project’s Scope.

A project brief should be written to define the project.  It should include key points about content, style, functionality, etc.  If it is a highly-detailed website with a lot of functionality, it helps to create a Website Architecture document which painstakingly details what each constituent will be able to do on the site.

Step 6 – Develop the Content / Messaging.

The agency will either use a writer on staff or hire a freelancer with specific technical knowledge related to the company’s industry to develop the content.  If the company is in the healthcare industry, the writer might have background and experience in the medical field and a solid understanding of the common industry jargon.  If the company is in the world of banking, the writer might have a background or experience writing about financial topics and have a good command of the lingo used in lending.  The writer will need to interview key constituents at the company to gain a deeper understanding of the business, its goals, unique value proposition, products/services, etc.  If the company already has a Brand DNA or Brand Guide that defines the company’s mission, vision, brand values, unique value propositions, etc., then the writer’s need for more discovery before developing content will be abbreviated.  The writer and company staff should agree on the Site Map identifying all pages of the site before the writing process begins.  There should be 2-3 rounds of edits to redirect or correct style, tone, voice and direction.

Step 7 – Design Wireframes.

Simultaneously, the digital agency will spend time crafting outline layouts that organize the concepts in the Project Brief based on the discovery.  These are called wireframes.  Some will offer one or several wireframe options of the home page and an interior page.  Some digital agencies skip the wireframe part altogether and immediately produce page designs.  While there is no set way of handling the conceptualization process, it helps to have multiple wireframe options first to ensure that the organization of the site makes sense against the site’s purpose and objectives.

Step 8 – Conceptual Designs.

Once the wireframes are approved, the designers for the digital agency will usually create one or multiple renditions of the home page design.  Once a design is chosen and tweaked, the designer creates one or a few designs that will serve as the layout for the rest of the interior pages.

Step 9 – Revisions and Approval.

There is typically 2-3 rounds of revisions to nail down the basic layout of the home page and interior page(s).  This is the part where collaboration is vital.  The stakeholders must provide feedback. This allows the designer to massage the aesthetics of the site to meet the company’s brand and personal preferences.  It is imperative to have one person who is the final arbiter of what the company wants.  Style is subjective, and designers need clear feedback in order to create a look that appeals not only to the stakeholders but to the customers.

Step 10 – Front-End Coding.

When all designs are completed, the best website agencies are now integrating front-end coding with the design process to produce coded, functional templates. This is important because it provides another checkpoint for the stakeholders to review their design before back-end integration. Front-end coding should be viewed as part of the design process because today’s experiences include animations, transitions, and responsiveness that can’t be articulated in a static design file, and are often over the creative heads of many back-end developers.

Step 11 – Integration

Once approved, then front-end files can transfer to the back-end developers, who integrate the templates into the systems that make them function.  The developers will either create software or identify existing software that can be integrated into the system to handle processing of orders, such as a shopping cart, communication with the client, a payment portal, etc.

Keep in mind that because it is tailored to the company’s specific needs, custom web design takes more time to complete, and in turn, requires a higher budget than a templated site.  Estimating the amount of time is hard to predict because of the high level of collaboration involved, including presentations, feedback, revisions, and more feedback.  Loops of communication all take time, and based on the structure of the teams in place, it can take much more time to complete.  Time, of course, directly correlates to money, which means projects designed from scratch cost more versus the alternative.

Step 12 – Beta Testing.

Even after a website has been written, designed, coded and programmed, it is not ready to deploy.  First, it must be thoroughly tested by a variety of users to determine if there are any glitches.  The simpler the site, the less testing that is required.  The more complex the site, the more extensive the testing and more people who should be beta testing the site.   A period of a month or two should be allocated for testing, depending on the complexity of the site.  As issues are found, they must be fixed and then retested.  It is a continuous cycle in order to ensure that all issues are resolved.

This is just a simple explanation to help anyone understand what it takes to either create or update a website.  It is not a process that can be expedited if the company wants a sophisticated website.  Allowing the team to work through the process methodically can save much time and headaches later, and ensure that customers are given a portal that is as customer-centric, useful and pleasing as the company itself.

Quote of the Week
“Your website is the center of your digital eco-system, like a brick and mortar location.  The experience matters once a customer enters just as much as the perception they have of you before they walk through the door.” Leland Dieno

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When Small and Midsized Businesses Update Websites in 2020, Part 2

Word Count: 1,325
Estimated Read Time: 5 ½ min.

Templated Site vs. Custom Site

Twenty years ago, most websites were nothing more than glorified brochures.  They delivered information online.  Today, a company website is used not only to deliver information but it also is able to capture a great deal of data, track user behavior and provide a wide array of tools, functionality and service. Continue reading

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When Small and Midsized Businesses Update Websites in 2020

Word Count: 1,658
Estimated Read Time: 6 ½ min.

Part 1:  Vetting Vendors

For small and mid-sized businesses, it is hard to stay on top of website development thanks to the accelerating pace of change. If your company’s website has not been updated in the last three years, it is archaic. If it doesn’t track traffic and interact with customers in a timely way, it is antiquated. And if it doesn’t capture and merge customer data into a sophisticated CRM system, it is obsolete. It’s as simple — and as painful — as that. If this is true of your company’s website, it is time for a website makeover. Continue reading

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Facing Trials and Blazing Trails in 2020

Word Count: 1,260
Estimated Read Time: 5 min.

It’s often been said that balance is the key to a happy life.  That seems to be true even when it comes to trials, tribulations and trouble.   While too much trauma throughout life – especially during early childhood — damages physical and mental health, little or no distress and disturbances can also weaken a person.  Not having negative experiences leaves a person fragile and vulnerable to life’s challenges.  It does not allow a deep resilience and toughness to develop.  Dealing with and overcoming problems develops character.  Grit, it seems, is like a muscle.  The more we exercise it, the stronger it gets.  So, there is a sweet spot in life experiences where individuals become stronger.  A person who suffers a childhood trauma but is able to bounce back becomes a much stronger, more resilient person overall.  An entrepreneur whose business fails is able to learn from those mistakes and become a better business owner the next time around.

Adversity – while deeply unpleasant — strengthens the human soul.   Some of this adversity comes from living in a fallen world full of unethical and immoral behavior.  Some of it arises from knocking up against all kinds of dangers such as natural disasters.  Some of it emanates from the struggles and effort that goes into dealing with the complexities of modern times.  And some adversity just arises from being alive, such as illnesses and diseases.  The truth is that there are very few people who manage to skate through life without any trials.  While some might seem to have it “easy”, in truth, most everyone is fighting some kind of battle.  Some battles are clear and visible, and some are hidden from sight.  But very few (if any) people have a “perfect, trouble-free life.” Continue reading

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Taking Stock: What Kind of Person Do You Want to Be in 2020?

Word Count: 2,105
Estimated Read Time: 8 1/2 min.

With less than 10 days left in 2019, most people have begun to focus on the horizon.  It will be the start of a new quarter – and a secular new year and decade — in a few days.  For those who study the daily portion of the Talmud, January 1, 2020 is also the Celebration of the Completion of the Talmud, the “Siyum Hashas”, which is the culmination of seven and a half years of daily learning.  So this is a time of endings, and also a time of new beginnings for many.  Such moments lead most people to do some self-assessment and a bit of soul-searching and introspection.  They often make a written list of resolutions, create professional plans and set goals.  This is a worthwhile exercise; something every person should do periodically.

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Business in the Coming Age of Collaboration

Word Count: 1,341
Estimated Read Time: 5 1/2 min.

Business leaders have embraced agility, creativity and fierce competitiveness as essential components for success in business. The strategy has been to generate ideas, jealously guard those ideas during incubation, move fast to market, make mistakes, discard duds, correct missteps, crush the competition, and repeat.  That approach yielded big results and returns for businesses like Microsoft, Apple, Alibaba, Amazon, Intel, Cisco, Disney, Walmart, BP, Toyota, Berkshire Hathaway, IBM, Samsung, and many more.   It drove these companies to be among the biggest and most successful in the world today.

However, as society moves from an Information Age and a Knowledge Economy into a much more technologically-complex world, organizations will need to make changes as to how they do business and their approach to innovation.  The old “crash and clash” mentality of making mistakes without regard to consequences, breaking things and fixing them later, and crushing competitors will need to be replaced with an increasingly slower, more deliberate, collaborative and cooperative approach to commerce and advancement.   Sounds fictional.  It’s not.  It’s a necessity.  Why? Continue reading

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It’s a Wrap: What To Do Before The Start of 2020

Word Count: 1,449
Estimated Read Time: 5 1/2 min.

Preparing for 2020

Companies in every industry have their own cycles and rhythms. In the retail sector, businesses ramp up during the fourth quarter to handle the holiday sales rush that pays for inventory ordered months before.  On the other hand, builders and developers cycle down at year-end to take account of the building season that just ended.  Regardless of what industry or sector a business is in, every organization should spend some time planning for not just the end of the quarter but the end of the year and decade, which is right around the corner. Continue reading

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Slugs vs. Caterpillars: How to Spot Good Ideas that can Turn into Great Ideas

Word Count: 1,936
Estimated Read Time: 8 min.

John Steinbeck once said, “Ideas are like rabbits.  You find two and learn how to handle them and soon you have a dozen.”  He meant that ideas have a tendency to reproduce.  That may be so.  And, certainly, these days there is no shortage of ideas.  The Internet and social media have made information sharing and collaboration much easier, which provides the fertile ground for new ideas to sprout.  So perhaps in 2020, the challenge isn’t in producing more ideas but rather in finding a way to spot which good ideas have the potential to become great ideas. Continue reading

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Improving the Quadruple Bottom Line

Word Count: 1,793
Estimated Read Time: 7 min.

In traditional business accounting and common usage, the Bottom Line refers to either a company’s ‘profit’ or ‘loss’.  It is usually recorded on the very Bottom Line of a statement of revenue and expenses.   It is the simplest indicator of a company’s performance and success that year.  And, generally, business leaders not only look at their current Bottom Line, but also forecast what they anticipate the company’s Bottom Line will be in the future, year-over-year. Continue reading

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Are Trademarks and Patents Worth It?

Word Count: 1,714
Estimated Read Time: 7 min.

Ask any intellectual property attorney if a brand name, tag line, motto or slogan should be trademarked or an innovation or invention should be patented and the answer will invariably be yes.  After all, without intellectual property protection, a business is a sitting duck to have its unique identity and ideas poached by competitors.  Bear in mind, though, that those attorneys have a horse in the race.  Intellectual property attorneys earn a living by filing patent and trademark applications and fighting to protect the intellectual property rights that their clients fought to obtain.  And, they are paid to do that work whether they win or lose.  Thus, they have a vested interest in promoting patents and trademarks. Continue reading

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